Florida’s Voters in Charge Ballot Initiative gets Senate Sponsor and Court Review

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing development of a ballot initiative aimed at requiring all gambling matters to be put up for a vote of the people before the state legislators can enact legislation. The ballot initiative is sponsored by the group Voters in Charge. The group is linked to No Casino’s through mutual president John Sowinski, an anti-gambling group that believes the Florida legislature often goes too far against the will of the voters when expanding gambling. The petition recently received enough signatures to have the language reviewed. Now, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, is taking the next step in the process and having the court review the validity of the proposed policy change. The Saint Peters Blog explains:

Attorney General *Pam Bondi* is asking the state Supreme Court to review a proposed constitutional amendment on gambling. Bondi sent a letter to the court Friday, asking it to judge the initiative’s “validity.”

The Voters In Charge committee, the group behind the amendment, is chaired by John Sowinski. He also heads the Orlando-based *No Casinos anti-gambling expansion organization. The two are separate entities.

“Our state’s history shows that you cannot expand gambling even a little in one place without it resulting in an explosion of gambling in another,” Sowinski said in a January statement. “The people of Florida should have the ultimate say when it comes to deciding on gambling expansion, not gambling industry lawyers and lobbyists.”

Additionally, the state examined the economic impact to the state. No true value was determined, but its clear that it’s a minimal impact as it simply puts gambling bills on the ballot to be voted on by the people. Some issue need clarification as well, including how retroactive the policy would be in relation to newly approved gambling legislation or court actions. Florida Politics Online explains: 

A panel of state economists stalemated this week on the financial impact of the Voter Control of Gambling amendment. One question that vexed panel members was whether the amendment would be “retroactive.” It’s not clear that the amendment will only prevent expanded gambling after it’s approved, or also could knock out some games now being played in Florida.

John Sowinski, who chairs Voters in Charge, also heads No Casinos, a gambling-expansion opposition group; “One of the things that’s very clear about the amendment … is that it has no impact or very minor impact on the state fiscally,” he said. “We think it will work out to the state’s benefit, in the long run, to put voters in charge of whether certain forms of casino gambling are legal in the state.” “It’s only in recent years that murky case law has given rise to the idea that the Legislature can legalize forms of casino gambling,” Sowinski said. “This amendment will make crystal clear that voters should be in charge of legalizing new forms of casino gambling in this state.”

When the group was asked about its ability to be retroactive, John Sowinski clarified that the idea is to cover new items that the legislature might try to push quickly prior to the amendment going into law, but it not be so retroactive as to disrupt the current gambling landscape. An earlier Florida Politics article elaborates:

“We didn’t want some things set out to beat the clock,” said *John Sowinski*, who also heads the No Casinos anti-gambling expansion organization. He explained he didn’t want gambling concerns trying to roll out new games before the amendment takes effect. But he also said he wanted to “preserve the status quo as much as possible.” In fact, another panelist had asked whether some gambling would be grandfathered in. Finally, Sowinski said that he would consult with his attorneys and report back.

 Finally, the ballot initiative has received its required state sponsor. The Saint Peters Blog reports:

A former state Senator has signed on to represent the backers of a proposed constitutional amendment on gambling. Florida Supreme Court records show Miami attorney Dan Gelber filed a notice of appearance on behalf of Voters In Charge the committee behind the amendment. Gelber, 55, also was Democratic Leader when he served in the House and unsuccessfully ran for Attorney General in 2010, losing to Republican Pam Bondi. 

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